In rap, feminism and pop culture, there was a before and after August 19, 2014. It was on this date that the Trinidadian-American rapper Nicki Minaj released the video for her single Anacondataken from his third album, The Pinkprint (2014). The day of its publication and in the weeks that follow, we only talk about that, whether at the coffee machine or on social networks. In 24 hours, the clip is seen 19.6 million times on the Vevo platform, beating a record held so far by the very sulphurous video of Wrecking-Ball (2013) by Miley Cyrus. A week later, we are at 100 million views. And today, more than 1 billion people have fantasized about the clip on YouTube. Nicki Minaj was even the first rapper, in 2021, to reach one billion views on the platform.
But why such fascination? We must review the kitsch and sulphurous Anaconda to understand and pay attention to the smallest detail. In this video shot in Los Angeles by American Colin Tilley (to whom we owe music videos for Kendrick Lamar, Cardi B and Britney Spears, Dj Snake and Megan Thee Stallion), we see the artist indulging – in thong – to twerking sessions with friends in the jungle, suggestively eating a banana, engaging in steamy gym sessions and giving a dumbfounded Drake a lap dance. Unlike rap clips from male artists, the women aren’t mere stooges dancing in trikinis alongside them. They act like “bosses”, brandishing the image of “bad bitches”. Nicki Minaj even mocks men by abusing phallic symbols like when she throws a banana over her shoulder with a disdainful pout. While the presence of juicy fruit and whipped cream clearly evoke female enjoyment. Another edifying symbol? The very title of the piece refers to the phallus but also to the original sin: in paradise, the devil takes the form of a serpent who incites Adam and Eve to bite into the forbidden fruit. As revenge from heaven for offending the planet, one of Nicki Minaj’s dancers rehearsing a live performance of the track for the 2014 MTV Video Music Awards was bitten by a snake on set.
In 2014, in the QG American, Nicki Minaj, falsely naive, nevertheless tries to minimize the symbolic significance of his video. She explains : “I don’t really know what there is to say about this video, I’m serious. I just see this video as a normal video. I think this video is about what girls do. Girls love hanging out with other girls, and if we could be any younger, we’d want to have slumber parties again, and dance with our friends. My character in the video is just talking about two guys she dated at the time, and why they were good, what they bought her, and what they were telling her. It’s daring, like a funny story.” In another interview, she simply confessed, half-heartedly, to have wanted to highlight women with shapes.
But the public does not hear it that way. After the visionary ofAnacondatwo camps clash on social networks and in the media. Some find the clip vulgar, demeaning and ridiculous. One can read in the Youtube comments of the time: “This is what is wrong with today’s society” or “Nicki gives a demeaning image of womenOthers see it as a feminist dimension. Nicki Minaj, who was ranked in 2013 in the list of “the most influential black women” by the prestigious New York Times, establishes its power and assumes a completely uninhibited, primitive, wild and almost shamanic feminine sexuality. Ultimate sign of his dominance? Her gold jewelry and designer clothes, sported at several points in the clip. But the debate is actually about the very essence of feminism: is the star in this clip a free subject who satisfies her desires or an object of desire subjected to the lustful eyes of others?
Nicki Minaj, one of the rare rappers to have succeeded in a very macho environment and to be respected by her male peers, here defends sorority (she stands in the middle of other women) as well as a pop and sex-positive feminism, a current born in the 80s in the United States, in reaction to a branch of feminism anti-pornography and anti-prostitution. At the time, his approach was not commonplace, which explains why it shocked so many well-meaning people. Since then, many clips of rappers and pop stars have surfed the wave. The most beautiful heir ofAnaconda undoubtedly remains the WAP (2020) by Cardi B, featuring Megan Thee Stallion, who also provoked controversy with her deluge of erotic scenes and sexual allegories.
Today the clipAnaconda is an avant-garde object. It is even a work of art in its own right that has spawned numerous diversions (including a legendary “lip sync” by Eva Longoria on American television in 2016) and inspired artists such as the French Camille Henrot. In 2015, she exhibited in an art center in Azerbaijan a series of delicate drawings reminiscent of the poetic line of Matisse and showing Nicki Minaj dancing as in the famous clip. In an interview given to Guardian in 2015, the artist explained: “I was struck by its radicalism and majesty. It didn’t seem particularly sexy to me. It’s more like a statement about letting go of stereotypes and about self-acceptance. It’s vulgar, but it’s beautiful.”
Shocked by the slut-shaming of which the rapper was the subjectCamille Henrot adds: “I like to think that she created Anaconda to provoke criticism. She abused the “black girl seen in music videos” archetype to the hilt to gain attention and create hate, if only so that we too could realize our aversion to the sexualization of women. women.” As if, in a gesture that is almost a performance, the rapper had shown a caricature of her character to better push those who would watch her to their limits, thus revealing their prejudices in broad daylight. on women and especially on women of color. We can indeed see in the criticisms aroused by the clip a form of misogynoir, this misogyny turned towards black women and linked to both origins and gender. It is the same phenomenon which was updated, very recently, in the hateful comments poured out against Aya Nakamura, in particular those relating to her appearance. More than a story of buttocks and thongs in the jungle, Anaconda is a fascinating cultural object that summarizes societal issues that the world still faces today.